Sunday, August 9, 2009

Professional follow-up on Medical District

A week or so ago I did a pictoral update on Medical District progress, which featured updates on OBI's new building, as well as several projects in the Oklahoma Health Center, such as the OU Children's Hospital, OMRF Research Tower, OU Cancer Institute, and more. I stressed the magnitude of the construction underway, a lot of which, people don't really notice..even people who talk about downtown a lot. This weekend, Steve Lackmeyer had a story run in the paper on the progress.. and obviously he did a much more professional job covering the same thing. More facts and research, quotes from people who actually know what they're talking about, and less pictures (the only downsize to professional caliber coverage, as it doesn't have the same flexibility where you can do a photo essay).

I completely missed getting pics of what is going on with the Embassy Suites. According to Joe Van Bullard in Steve's article, construction is set to start on the $25 million hotel. Same with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association headquarters, which will be a $4 million HQ addition. The new OIPA project, which has largely flown under the radar, will be 3 stories tall and 20,000 sf large, pictured on the left. It broke ground November 18 (last year) at NE 4th and Lincoln, right across I-235 from the Block 42 development.

Steve's article hints to several new projects in the planning phase. The OHC Foundation's CEO, Hershel Lamirand, hinted to 3 new medical projects, and suggested that 8th Street (which is largely undeveloped at the moment) is going to become the new hot area for developments. Facts that back up the momentous occasion of the current building phase: 5 of the projects alone (Dean McGee Eye Institute, OBI, OMRF, and OU's Children's Hospital and Cancer Institute) come to a total price tag of $534 million. If someone had said there would be 5 new buildings built in Bricktown, totaling over half a billion dollars, there would be a parade (either that, or in the case of Bob Funk two years ago, someone would subvert it at City Hall).

The $534 million does not include the Embassy Suites, the OU College of Allied Health, OIPA, or any other projects that haven't been announced yet. This is the largest construction phase the OHC or the entire Medical District for that matter has seen since the 1970's, when OU first built the medical center. It's quite possible the pricetag could top $1 billion within a year, especially when you consider that parking is at a premium. Lamirand suggested more parking garages are to come, as well.

Jane Jenkins, president of Downtown OKC Inc., also cited some really cool facts in the article. 12,500 people are currently employed at the OHC, and we already know OMRF plans on adding 500-800 jobs when their research tower goes up. That's compared to about 40,000 people that work in the CBD, or in context of other medical centers.. the Texas Medical Center in Houston, world's largest concentration of research jobs, employs 75,000 people (guess I'm not capable of writing a post without mentioning Houston). The TMC always has billions of dollars in new construction underway at any given fact the Houston version of "Keep Austin Weird" is "Keep Houston Under Construction." In Raleigh-Durham's Research Triangle Park, 39,000 people are employed, spread across 157 different organizations. The South Texas Medical Center in San Antonio employs 27,000 people. Around 30,000 people work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The OHC is quite possibly a top 15 medical center, but it has a long ways to go in order to catch up.

What makes it a valuable tool, more so than the Research Triangle Park or South Texas Medical Center, is that the OHC is not located 10-15 miles from downtown, but rather just 1. It is a 5 minute walk from from the CBD to the OHC. In fact the Underground connects the two (the Capitol Complex segment that few people know about). It is this that makes the OHC more comparable to the Mayo complex or the TMC, even if only in city planning context. As the OHC grows, its presence will be a major contributor to Downtown OKC. People often say the only reason Rochester, MN even exists, and has a nice skyline, is the Mayo Clinic. The TMC is probably the best argument to bring up when people say Houston is dominated by oil. And so on. OKC will become more and more dependent on the OHC, which is a very good thing, in the long run.


Shane said...

The Medical Distric has the potential to be really cool. Those 12,000 employees and counting are all potential buyers for downtown condos, potential shoppers at downtown retail, and potential riders on downtown transit. Put an apartment tower or two in the medical district, and they will come: students, medical professionals, investors looking to rent units to long-term patients and their families. It's also the perfect location for convenience retailers like Walgreens.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

I think what would be a better idea is instead of residential towers in the medical district, put a streetcar in that provides a rapid pedestrian transit link between the OHC and the condos being developed just across I-235.